If the FBI uses WhatsApp to gather information about citizens, the news is a devastating blow to the press. Reporters can’t be sure that their sources are telling them the whole truth, but the company’s guide doesn’t fully explain what the FBI can obtain through snooping. What’s more, the guide doesn’t even cover the scope of physical device access, which the FBI may use to obtain information about their targets. Even end-to-end encryption won’t protect information on a mobile device.
Acton, Koum and Marlinspike believe the FBI uses
Two founders of a popular encryption protocol have come forward to say the FBI uses
WhatsApp to spy on people. They say WhatsApp has adopted the Signal protocol to protect its users’ privacy and security. Signal is an open source code that uses end-to-end encryption to make content unintelligible to anyone who may be looking at it. The app enables users to remain anonymous while communicating with their friends.
The reason that WhatsApp is under fire is the fact that it has end-to-end encryption. The message is only viewable by the person who sent it. While the FBI is unhappy with this feature, the program itself has been developed with privacy and security in mind. Because of this, all communications on WhatsApp are safe from unauthorized users. Not only does end-to-end encryption protect users’ privacy, it also protects companies from lawsuits from privacy activists.
The privacy of these communications is under threat in the wake of the Edwards scandal. The FBI filed a criminal complaint against Edwards after the two exchanged hundreds of WhatsApp messages. Both individuals believed the messaging service was secure, but the authorities have used the messages to prove their case. Acton, Koum and Marlinspike believe the FBI uses WhatsApp to spy on people.
iMessage is one of the least secure services as far as what the FBI can see
The document details how the FBI can get information about targets using nine different services: iMessage, Line, Telegram, Wickr, Viber, and Facebook Messenger. Among these, iMessage is the least secure service, allowing the FBI to access limited message content, encryption keys, sender and receiver information, and device backups. While iMessage is an integral part of the iPhone ecosystem, other messaging apps are not tied to an operating system.
However, Apple didn’t intend to make its messaging service unreadable to law enforcement. The company only wanted to make its products better, and not to make it easier for the government to spy on its users. The Silicon Valley company has a much better security mindset than phone companies do. Their security teams will not approve any service that doesn’t have encryption, and many communication products must undergo a lengthy internal review process before they are released. While iMessage is not 100% secure in the eyes of the FBI, how to read SMS from another phone it is still one of the least secure services as far as what the FBI can see.
Regardless of which messaging service a user chooses, the FBI’s document outlines how the FBI can obtain user data. It outlines which types of information the agency can legally access from different services. The FBI can even get information from a person’s registration information, so this makes iMessage the least secure service as far as what the FBI can see.
Telegram and Signal have more limitations on what the FBI can legally obtain
Unlike Whatsapp, Signal and Telegram have stricter legal restrictions on what the FBI can obtain, but what about what the government can’t get? Telegram is a popular alternative to Whatsapp, but there are some significant differences. What’s more, Telegram defaults to no encryption and doesn’t do encrypted group chats. Telegram uses a home-rolled encryption protocol that is almost always weak and backdoored. It’s also headquartered in Russia, which makes it untrustworthy. It’s a good thing the FBI is not on board, but this doesn’t mean the company is safe either. Telegram gives messages to hostile intelligence services, and the FBI has no leverage over Russian companies.
One of the biggest concerns about encrypted messaging services is the possibility that the FBI can illegally snoop on users’ private conversations. This issue has spawned numerous lawsuits based on privacy concerns. However, there are some important exceptions. For example, the FBI can legally obtain information from Signal and Telegram, but only if they are part of a terrorist investigation.
If you’re worried about the NSA obtaining your messages, you can turn on disappearing messages to protect your communications. Those who are concerned about a government agency unlocking their phones should enable two-factor authentication to secure their accounts. However, if you’re concerned that your messages may be intercepted, you might want to consider using a free app that does not require a paid subscription.